September’s arrival means many things to Portland families — back to school, the arrival of autumn, and a chance to spend two hours watching thousands and thousands of birds roost. The tiny North American birds, known as Vaux Swifts, are back for their annual migration party and here’s how you can witness this natural phemomenon in action.

vaux swifts crowd farm4.staticflickr.com

 Photo credit: Heathre via Flickr Creative Commons

The Scoop on Swift Watch
Swift Watch happens September 1-30th. Each evening runs from about 6–8 p.m. and is free. The tiny swifts will roost about one hour before sunset. At go-time, thousands of birds fly overhead from all directions, circle and huddle up, then dive into the chimney like a smoky tornado in reverse, settling in for a long night of rest. A hawk or peregrine falcon usually makes a nightly appearance to try and catch one of the swifts. Onlookers audibly ooh, aah, cheer and clap as the birds circle the chimney, then drop in carefully or successfully dodge a hawk. Audubon volunteers are onsite offering swift details and history, collecting donations and perhaps selling a swifts hat or two.

swifts chapman school lauriesharp.netPhoto credit: lauriesharp.net

Picnics and Cardboard Hill Slides
For families, Swift Watch has become a marker of the season. Parents pack picnic baskets, bring chairs and blankets, invite friends and neighbors and find the best spot on the hill to watch. There’s sometimes even pizza for sale onsite, if you don’t have time to cook (or eat) before you arrive, but it’s better to plan ahead if you can.

If you do end up getting to the general area a little early, grab some Mexican food and margaritas at Acupulco’s Gold (2610 NW Vaughn St., 503-220-0283) or frozen yogurt with all the toppings you can handle at Twist Frozen Yogurt and Coffee Bar (1650 NW 23rd Ave., 971-271-8756).

For the bigger kiddos, Chapman School has become a destination also because of the mini-sledding, grass-covered hill. Kidlets of all sizes bring cardboard flats and slide down the massive hill, then climb back up and do it again. Chapman School and Wallace Park also have an excellent playground, making it a fantastic night of play, community and bird-gazing.

VauxsSwift brid-friends.com

Photo credit: bird-friends.com

Good to Know
The NW neighborhood around Chapman School gets packed every night for thirty nights so they ask that you clean up after your clan and keep your pets in check. Parking can be tight. With many streets around the neighborhood, something can usually be found. Condense your gear though, it could be a multi-block walk and there are steep hills. Parking near Montgomery Park gives you a quick getaway after the birds have finished.

Chapman School and Wallace Park
1445 NW 26th Ave.
Online: audubonportland.org

Are the swifts part of your family’s fall tradition? If so, let us know in the Comments section below!

— Liz Overson